Shabbat Inspirations July 2

July 1, 2021 was one year since we launched the Jewish Volunteer Gardening Brigade.

In 2020 we said: “The JVGB aims to support and engage new gardeners. As we’ve seen gardens sprout up in our neighborhoods around greater Boston, we want to ensure these gardens are productive the entire growing season. Beyond the increased self-sufficiency of growing your own food, it takes a community to feed a community. We are connecting small scale efforts at growing food to build a more resilient web for all. 

Our hands in the soil increases connection to Creation as well as stimulating questions and learning opportunities. This is the time to learn and to act. This is the time to be amazed at what we can do when we support each other. In this time of Coronavirus, the national Jewish Community Farming field (of which BJG is a member) issued an “… invitation to take direct action and weave those actions into our story of liberation and peoplehood.””

These ideas resonate as much today as they did last summer as our community of Jewish gardeners was in formation. Feedback from our first year included:

  • “I wanted to connect with other Jewish gardeners and have a chance to learn. Both needs were met!”
  • “I did not expect to have the experience of community that I enjoyed with the Zoom calls and the Sukkot visits.”

An anniversary is a good time to consider, how is the Brigade, a local community of Jewish gardeners, woven into our story of liberation and peoplehood?

Local resilience has proved itself strong over the past year. Local supply chains were better able to shift and adapt to the changing needs of consumers as there were multiple interruptions to the global supply chains. Many got to know their neighbors in a more intimate way. As community programs shifted online, many became accessible to a larger number of people than previously. Our local community has built gardens and relationships.

Connection and support of each other, even as agriculturalists, is a part of the long story of Jewish peoplehood. The Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society was established in New York State in 1900 and by 1909 it had a membership of 3,040 Jewish farm families. In 1908 it began monthly publication of “The Jewish Farmer,” in Yiddish, which ran until December 1959.

Their task was outlined in their charter: The encouragement and direction of agriculture among Jews in the US, and their removal from crowded sections of cities; the granting of loans to mechanics, artisans and tradesmen, aid in the acquisition of homes in suburban, agricultural and industrial districts; the removal of industries, now pursued in tenements or shops in crowded sections of cities, to country districts; and encouragement of cooperative and cooperative undertakings both agricultural and industrial. (Our Jewish Farmers and the Story of Jewish Agricultural Society, pages 11-12)

Today, as individuals are growing food in their backyards and side alleys, on front porches and in community gardens, how does this help the collective?

Experiences of where our food comes from, and the resources and skills involved in growing food, increases our awareness of how our actions (our food choices) impacts others and our ecosystem as a whole.

How do we understand and know who are the needy in our community? Is our small amounts of fresh produce the best way to aid the food insecure?

We must think of food justice beyond simply donating our excess produce to local food pantries. If they have the infrastructure (cooling and storage systems, labor force, etc.) for small scale produce donations, no doubt it would be welcome. Yet, it is systemic change in our food system that will build a more just and equitable food system for all in the long run.

In 2020, Massachusetts invested $36 million in grants to local food system enterprises, launching the Food Security Infrastructure Grant (FSIG) program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of the FSIG grant program is to ensure that individuals and families throughout the Commonwealth have access to food, with a special focus on food that is produced locally and equitable access to food. The program also seeks to ensure that farmers, fisherman and other local food producers are better connected to a strong, resilient food system to help mitigate future food supply and distribution disruption.

MA lawmakers are beginning to debate how to best invest billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The MA Food System Collaborative is urging our legislature and administration to commit $30 million of the ARPA funds to renew FSIG to support local food system resilience. Now is the time for us to call and email our legislators to tell them how important FSIG is.

This is the time to learn and to act.